Political Science and Syria’s War Memos

On November 8, 2013 leading experts on civil wars and insurgencies assembled at the George Washington University to discuss the relevance of their theoretical models and arguments to the Syria conflict with current and former U.S. policy officials. Rather than formal presentations, the conference was organized around a series of directed, rolling discussions moderated by POMEPS Director Marc Lynch. The discussions began by examining how best to understand the original conflict initiation and the development of the insurgency. A working lunch provided policy officials an opportunity to emphasize the challenges they have faced as the conflict has developed. In the afternoon, participants analyzed the conflict’s regional and international dimensions. The conference concluded with participant debates on the possible outcomes and conclusions of the conflict.

Participants prepared memos on their own areas of specialization in advance of the conference. Selected memos were published as Middle East Channel articles and as part of POMEPS Studies 5 — The Political Science of Syria’s War  in December 2013. The memos are also available here individually.


“The Political Science of Syria’s War,” Marc Lynch.

I. Defining the Conflict: Theoretical Perspectives on Syria’s War

“What Can Civil War Scholars Tell Us About Syria’s Conflict?” Fotini Christia.

“Technology of Rebellion in the Syrian Civil War,” Laia Balcells and Stathis Kalyvas.

“Syria’s Civil War,” James D. Fearon.

“Roles and Mechanisms of Insurgency,” Roger Petersen.

II. Barriers to War Resolution

“Veto Players and Civil War,” David E. Cunningham.

“The Four Things We Know About How Civil Wars End (And What This Tells Us About Syria),” Barbara F. Walter.

“Conflict Outcomes,” Erin Simpson.

III. Opposition Fragmentation and Governance 

“Actor Fragmentation and Conflict Processes,” Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham.

“Insurgent Organization and State-Armed Group Relations: Implication for Syria,” Paul Staniland.

“Understanding Fragmentation in the Syrian Revolt,” Wendy Pearlman.

“Fighting Between Allies and the Civil War in Syria,” Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl.

“Rebel Governance and the Syrian War,” Zachariah Mampilly.

“Syria’s Foreign Fighters,” Thomas Hegghammer.

IV. The Regime

“Syria’s Adaptive Authoritarians,” Steven Heydemann.

“The Challenges of Nation-Building,” Harris Mylonas.

“Why Regime Change is a Bad Idea for Syria,” Alexander Downes.

Postscript: Theory and Policy 

“First-Rate Intelligence: U.S. Government Understanding of the Syrian Civil War,” Jeremy Shapiro.

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